Saturday, March 31

Tits and Bums

Today’s newbies in the yard: Long-tailed tits. Whilst usually seen in family-sized groups, March is a little early: so just the two. For whatever reason these tiny birds are also known as Bum Towels in Devon (Bum Barrels in Nottinghamshire, Poke Puddings in Gloucestershire). I’m told their nests are a thing of beauty, but again, it’s early days.

Constantly raising the bar

A glut of doctors looms in NHS. Last week it was a surfeit of lawyers, prior to that the demise of starting salaries for new recruits in the City. I’m assuming this is in part the old supply v demand thing. Universities continue to churn out an ever increasing number of bright young things, only to find the world outside has become leaner and meaner. You would expect the cost of legal and medical services to fall in due course but I won’t hold my breath. What price an A-level student wondering which way to jump, what to study at University. And with so much talent available, what chance the mediocre?

Friday, March 30

Mr One Note

The new sobriquet, having made the mistake of consuming an excess of Bordeaux’s finest before choir practise. All of a sudden I’m Tom Jones, and instead of taking up my usual position behind the tallest guy in the bass section, I lead from the front. Choral director not amused; not my finest hour.

Thursday, March 29

The barometer is falling

With a fuel strike in the offing I topped off the motor’s tank yesterday. Running out of diesel in this part of the world doesn’t bear thinking about. Given current fuel prices I wonder at how people manage to commute the length and breadth of the county to get to work each morning, let alone deliver kids to school or pick up supplies. Neighbours run fleets of vehicles – Land Rover, family pool cars, tractors, quad bikes, horse box, JCB, etc. It’s not hard to reason why the cost of lamb chops has gone through the roof. All were out early this morning, driving the woollies out past our yard, up onto the moor; lots of riders along the lane exercising their horses. Titivating outhouses in readiness for visitors is a sure sign half-term holidays are with us, and that the weather will take a turn for the worse.

Wednesday, March 28

November comes early

To say the last six months has not gone as smoothly as I’d have liked would be a gross understatement. This week, however, is bliss; still March and I have a tan. Wellies remain de rigueur, but for now at least, I’m in shirt-sleeve order. Have barbequed three days on the trot. Today’s bonfire would itself have taken care of a steer-sized joint such was its scale and intensity. Emboldened by my neighbours’ spring time conflagrations I’ve managed to rid myself of a number of fallen tree limbs and fence posts, a truck-load of discarded or rotting wood from around the yard, one patio table and four chairs, and an entire hedge. Four hours and it was still flaming.

Tuesday, March 27

Violet oil beetle

Just beyond the yard's red ant nest and black ant nest it's the beetles that rule. This character is a Violet oil beetle (Meloe violaceus), a fairly sizeable specimen (>30mm) and one rumoured to be thin on the ground.

Friday, March 23

Rocks and Rockin’ Robins

You have no idea how stony Dartmoor earth can be, and a fair proportion of the area’s granite seems to lie beneath the surface of our yard. That said it’s been wonderful to work outside for a change, and in the sunshine – an unbelievable 22ยบ. After twenty or so barrow-loads of rubble perhaps not quite so much fun, but you still wouldn’t swop. Robins are this week’s star attraction, along with the pond’s newts. I hadn’t seen newts since a kid on Bentley common. After a hard day’s labour nothing beats a cold beer, one of the few things to have avoided the scourge of inflation. Until now that is. Minimum pricing: can’t help themselves can they. Whilst it is possible to buy 12 cans of lager for £8, it costs a tenner in diesel to reach the nearest shop.

Tuesday, March 20

No time to stand and stare

Yesterday was probably the last of our braised-beef this season: the anchovy, garlic and parsley sauce is no more. This coming weekend the clock springs forward and I can already taste barbeque. Charred amphibian legs would have been an interesting addition to the menu, but our plague of frogs and the subsequent knot of toads are no more – only their offspring remain. Pheasants are still thick on the ground, ditto wood pigeons; and all around lambs are being born and cows are calving. The neighbour runs a large herd of giant black beasts that stand rooted on the hillside above us, roaring and bellowing. Whilst winter has been kind we couldn’t survive without a log-burning stove, the lighting of which is my first task each morning. Second on this morning’s list is to tear down another section of stud walling. Painting the Forth Bridge ain’t in it: the streams full of stars will have to wait.

Thursday, March 15

The Nelson excuse

Whilst there have been moments during the last 48 hours when we’ve glimpsed the fence at the bottom of the yard, for the most part the fog has won out. The upside has been a certain willingness on my part to ignore work (out of sight out of mind) and sit watching the televised racing. What with Cheltenham and the action from Stamford Bridge it’s been an exciting couple of days. Needs must however, although even when outside it is too easy to become distracted. Cock pheasants asserting territorial claims are compulsive viewing, worthy of a chalk board in themselves. Late night back-doubles from the Dog & Duck (with scarcely 10yds visibility) is an interesting exercise: 10 miles of adrenalin generating twists and turns on a bleak stretch of the moor – sans white lines, cats eyes, and, occasionally, tarmac.

Tuesday, March 13

The morning's papers and life’s certainties

Although people may or may not be happier than they were in 1952, filling newspaper columns doubtless remains a task of Sisyphean proportions. Thankfully as night follows day the cost of fitting out aircraft carriers and policing Olympic games will rise, and outrage; red meat will be blamed for early deaths, house prices will fluctuate, energy costs are increased and hosepipe bans enacted; people will kill each other, wager on horses and stock markets, receive bonuses – whether warranted or not; someone, somewhere will complain about farmers and hedges, stuff will grow and need cutting...shit will happen. Fortunately I now have my own personal landfill site.

Sunday, March 11

The daily quandary

If it’s Sunday it must be chores day, so I decided to recruit a neighbour to help trim the foliage surrounding the house. By trim I mean reduce its height to roof level: the easy part. The real fun lies in my dragging what constitutes a surprising amount of debris to a suitable area of ground and building another pyre. I’m running out of space and remain in two minds as to whether we go the towering inferno route – risk burning down the barn and next door’s stables – or play it safe and spend money hiring skips. Do I feel lucky?

Saturday, March 10

Walkers and riders

Into Tavistock for the Saturday morning market...Stocking up on the usual stuff, although on a day like today the drive across the moor is worthwhile in itself. A busy road, with minibuses carrying students from schools and colleges across the region, en route to train for the Ten Tors Challenge. It was just as active on our return, this time with weekend riders exercising their horses. Walked out up the hill and sat chatting with the monitors who were keeping an eye of the students’ progress. It’s a gloriously sunny day, the sparse black trees and muddy pools at long last eclipsed by flowering gorse and the sky larks’ chorus. Back home for the footy results, to watch the rugby; and to dine on roast partridge, parsnips and pears.

Friday, March 9

Newbies in the yard

From troubles of the world I turn to ducks (Frank W Harvey)...As if there isn’t enough in the way of birdsong, two Mallards have set up home in the yard. Whilst giving us a wide berth they don’t appear overly concerned by our presence. I guess it’s Goodnight Vienna to the tadpoles. The yellow daffodils have also made a tentative appearance: like me they’re not quite ready to place their trust in the weather. This spring should be a constant surprise as we have no idea what lays beneath the ground, what the countless straggly shrubs and bushes will produce. For the moment we’re limiting ourselves to transplanting stalks of holly and blackthorn in what gaps the flail mower left behind.

Thursday, March 1

No. 1 cut

If the tracks in the yard are to be believed there’s a badger the size of a small bear living in close proximity. Whilst I’ve yet to catch sight of brock, the rabbits are hard to miss. I spent two hours yesterday digging over Mrs G’s lettuce patch, and put the chance of her green stuff growing to fruition at 20/1. Given the unseasonably bright weather we returned to the yard this morning and set about picking up the shrapnel from our hedge. I’m in the dog house for disobeying the good lady’s orders, in that I was supposed to undertake some light pruning to a line of holly and rhododendron with my trusty bow saw and pen knife. Instead I thought it a smart idea to bung twenty-quid at a passing tractor driver, unaware of what his flail mower would do to her pride and joy. Let’s hope it’s no more than a tragic haircut that will grow back.